FRESNO COUNTY, Calif. (KGPE) – As thousands of students head back into the classrooms in Fresno County, the rest gearing up for a return next week. It comes as COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations spike locally.

One of the biggest ways school officials are working to keep students in class is through at-home rapid tests.

Superintendent of Fresno County Schools Jim Yovino said that the state is sending 160,000 kits that will be delivered to his office this week. His office will then distribute the tests to the districts who will give them out to parents that request a kit. The tests are not required for students to return to class after break.

“It is not a mandate that your child cannot return to school without a negative test, they are just saying that they are strongly encouraging parents to test their children as they come back into the classroom.”

Thousands of students returned on Tuesday to school campuses for the district’s first official day of 2022. The district already distributed over 40,000 free COVID rapid tests before winter break from the state for students who wanted them. The tests were not mandated for return.

Due to the state’s mask mandate, Clovis Unified is extending the requirement that all staff, regardless of vaccination status, wear masks indoors until at least January 15th.

Also, students and staff who have tested positive for COVID are now only required to quarantine for 5 days instead of 10 as long as they show proof of a negative test on the fifth day or later.

“If a parent chooses not to go through the testing process or chooses to keep their child home that just means that you are looking at a 10-day isolation or quarantine period,” said Clovis Unified Spokesperson Kelly Avants.

20 omicron cases have been confirmed in Fresno County and overall new reported COVID cases are on the rise with hospitalizations spiking.

According to state data, COVID-related hospitalizations in Fresno County have increased by nearly 45% since Christmas.  

“We are concerned about people ending up in the hospital and dying so to recall over the course of the pandemic there have been over 800,000 Americans that have died from COVID and over 2000 people in Fresno County,” said Fresno County Health Department Medical Advisor Dr. John Zweifler.”

The Fresno County Office of Education and Clovis School District have posted COVID guidelines and protocols on their websites.

Parents can find more information about testing their children before they return to school on the California Department of Public Health’s website.